The emergence of heinous discourse of hatred in social media on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and the provocation of social violence and upheaval in almost all the Muslim countries show that we are suffering from a lack of collective minds. If all Western people had similar sentiments about Islam as depicted in this movie and if all Muslims held a similar mindset as the violent protesters, we would have said that this is something beyond a lack of prudence and wisdom and that it is a genetic state of human nature. But we know that this is not the case. We have seen this again in this situation; there have been many voices of reason in both the Christian and the Muslim worlds, reminding us of what it is to be human.
The question then is this: Considering that there are many voices of reason on both sides and that both sides have well-established institutions that are able to address such matters, how do we still experience violent manifestations of racism? We could look for the answer to this question in globalization, the unequal distribution of incomes and the established bigotries of the “other” culture. But maybe it is time for us to realize that we actually travel around the same state of racism despite thinking that we are healthy and normal. Maybe because many ideals which we consider universal are not universal yet and we still represent our culture and are not mature enough to create a world with other cultures.
One of the ways not to confront this possibility is to analyze the conflict between two cultures based on the results. We are now discussing how this recent provocation would affect the American election or how it would influence American attitudes towards the Arab Spring. We are ready to not rush and discuss the actual matter because we are embarrassed by such provocations and it is also really difficult to prevent such cases. However, what makes these incidents possible is nothing but the current state of relations between the East and the West.
No one would argue with President Barack Obama, who said: “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence.” True, but sadly these are politically “empty” remarks because they do not involve an approach that would prevent such incidents in the future. It invites all to wisdom and reason but it does not speak to the unreasonable.
Reason can only be achieved when everyone speaks to their own communities and societies. The Islamic world has to take a long road on this matter. But the over self-confidence in the West also prevents the East from acting reasonably. And some behaviors in the Islamic world also negatively affect the West.
However, the case is not symmetrical. In the end, the US invaded Iraq, instead of Iraq invading the US. For this reason, it is extremely difficult to achieve an environment of reason unless the Western world confronts its direct or indirect Orientalist tendencies. Hillary Clinton’s reflex after the murder in Benghazi was this: “How could this happen in a country we helped liberate? … This question reflects just how complicated … the world can be.” This naivety is surprising. Is it so difficult to understand that you have also offended or destroyed the social fabric and cohesion in a country that you helped?
This situation, which creates a state of naivety in Clinton, refers to clear exclusion in the world of Mitt Romney; it should be noted that the East hears Romney, not Obama. Romney interpreted the condemnation by the American Embassy in Cairo of those who offended religious sentiments as an apology for American values, including freedom of expression.
It is necessary to see that this is an Orientalist approach that serves the spread of racism because if you define freedom of expression as an American value, you create the perception that defending freedom of expression serves American hegemony over the East. In addition, if you view the use of freedom of expression to offend other cultures as normal, then you are admitting that you do not want to coexist with other cultures.
The universal justification of freedom of expression requires neutrality between cultures. The Western world supposes that this value is neutral. But from an Eastern perspective, it does not look neutral because it is being used in a way to violate the minimum boundaries that coexistence requires.